Strengths and mostly weaknesses of a SWOT analysis

Law departments often use the Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats tool and its four quadrants in an effort to analyze their strategic position. Its strength is simplicity and superficial explanatory power. Its weaknesses, however, cause me not to discard the tool.

One problem is that a characteristic can be both a strength and a weakness. For example, technology or leverage could be judged either one. Second, few SWOT analyses put priorities on strengths or weaknesses. They are an undifferentiated mass. Third, a strength or weakness should be relative to the characteristic at some other law firm or law department. If it is compared to some platonic ideal (“We don’t communicate well”), the list could go on forever and lack reference to reality.

Fourth, internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats overlap. For example, it might be a weakness to have only one international office, but that observation has an implicit notion about the external threat of global competitors. I also believe that a law department could state most strengths as the inverse of a weakness, and vice versa: “We don’t have e-billing” (weakness) is probably the converse of “We have a successful manual bill review process” (strength).

Finally, but not exhausting SWOT’s shortcomings, the four quadrants are all interlocked and to talk about one separately from the others may appeal analytically but leaves out the complexity and inter-connectedness of a law department. (See the following post on law departments as systems.)

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